THE MARITIME MUSEUM
The building as originally erected in 1901 to serve as a grain and sawmill. It has now been adapted to serve as a unique Maritime Museum. A life-sized replica of Bartolomeu Dias’s caravel is on display together with all aspects of the maritime history of the early Portuguese, Dutch and English navigators.
Bartolomeu Dias – the master mariner after which the Mossel Bay Museum Complex is named, was the first explorer to set foot on South African soil here in Mossel Bay on 3 February 1488. He named Mossel Bay “The Watering Place of Saint Blaize” after arriving here on the holy day of the patron Saint Blaize and collecting fresh water from the fountain which today still flows.
In the foyer a ceramic mural of blue and white Portuguese tiles can be seen. This magnificent piece of art was created by the Portuguese artist, Gilberto, and depicts the mythical figure of Adamastor. The poet Luis Vasda Cameos was inspired by Vasco da Gama’s 1497 encounters with the terrifying storms that surround the Cape of Storms and created this tale of the sea spirit. The poem features Adamastor who was expelled from Olympus for his rebellion against the Gods. His punishment was to be transformed into a rugged mountain at the southern tip of Africa. It was here that he would guard the seas, send out storms to punish the continuous free movement of the Portuguese. It later became a superstition amongst the sailors that bad luck would befall those that saw Adamastor.
The Vasco da Gama Exhibit
This exhibit was officially opened in 1997 – exactly 500 years after Vasco da Gama, one of the most noted Portuguese explorers, arrived in Mossel Bay. It depicts the contact with the indigenous Khoi-Khoi tribe and the first recorded barter transaction on South African soil. If one listens carefully, the Khoi’s music and the Portuguese trumpets can be heard between the sounds of gently breaking waves and seagulls.
There is a large collection of maps from early cartographers. The Cantino Planisphere (1502) dominates the entrance foyer and shows the routes of the three most prominent explorers between 1482 and 1497. Other maps in the collection includes copies of the Martellus map and various world maps until the 1600’s.
The Overland Trade Route
Many centuries before the Portuguese opened up the sea route to India, a land/sea route from India to the Mediterranean had evolved. From Malacca small vessels carried the goods to India by sea and then on to Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf where they were routed via Aleppo and Alexandretta. An alternative route from India ran from the Red Sea via Suez, Cairo and Alexandria.
The tolls levied by the rulers of the countries traversed by the overland route contributed significantly to the high cost of the trade goods reaching Europe. Hormuz at one end of the Indian Ocean and Malacca at the other were the two great Asian entrepots for the collection and distribution of luxury goods, including the Indonesian spices, which eventually reached Europe via Venice – the gateway to Europe.
Trade between Europe and the Far East in the 15 th and 16 th century
The motives which inspired the attempts to discover a sea route to India were first and foremost the search for spice, secondly the desire for Guinea gold, thirdly their Christian crusading zeal and lastly the quest for the legendary Christian King Prester John.
Vasco da Gama’s Aarrival in Calicut, India in 1497 heralded the start of maritime trade between Europe and the Far East. The Portuguese first established their stations at Goa and Cochin on the Malabar (West) ccoast of India and in 1511 they captured Malacca thus extending their influence to Malaysia, China and Japan. They enjoyed a virtual monopoly of the trade for the whole of the 16 th century
On the upper level is an interesting display on Shipwrecks. One of them was the Rosebud. It was wrecked on Diaz Beach at Mossel Bay on 30 August 1888 during a south-east gale while on a voyage from Calcutta to London via Mossel Bay and Cape Town with a general cargo. No lives were lost. It was a British three-masted wooden schooner of 341 tons built in 1876 by Carnegie Peterhead and commanded by captain J. Collie.